The Embassy of Latvia: Alice Pike Barney’s Studio House

10.05.2024. 20:15

The Embassy of Latvia was once the home of Alice Pike Barney, a patron of the Washington art scene in the early 20th century. Alice Pike was born in 1857 to a wealthy Cincinnati family and traveled extensively to Europe before and after her marriage to Albert Barney in 1876. During her visits to Europe, she attended salons and gatherings in the homes of the great artists of that time. With her husband, Alice Barney moved to Washington, DC in 1889. Shortly before Albert’s death in 1902, Alice designed the house of her dreams, one in which she could educate and entertain Washington, D.C. society in the arts.

Alice Barney worked closely with young Washington, D.C. architect Waddy B. Wood to design a house which would convey to her guests a sense of her lifestyle. Alice provided Wood with ideas gathered from her visits to artists’ studios. The interior was housed in brick and limestone with a stucco facade, red-tiled roof and windows of various shapes and sizes, reminiscent of a Mediterranean villa. In 1903 Alice celebrated the completion of the building by holding an open house to which she invited all the workmen, in addition to her friends. Newspapers recounted that the house was a resounding success.

During Alice’s residence in her studio house, she entertained an array of guests from President Theodore Roosevelt to Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress of her day. Theatrical productions, art exhibits, teas and dinners to further the cause of art in Washington DC were held in this building. Alice can also be credited for the idea of the Sylvan Theatre, located outdoors on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

Alice Barney died in 1931 in California; her daughters who lived abroad rented the house to various organizations including the Embassy of Peru. In 1961 the daughters donated the house and its contents to the Smithsonian Institution for use as an arts center. It was administered by the National Museum of American Art, now known as the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In 1999 the Smithsonian sold Barney Studio House to a private buyer and in 2001 the house was bought by the Embassy of Latvia; the official opening (after the Embassy of Latvia moved from its historic location at 4325 17th Street, N.W.) was held in March 2006 in the presence of then Latvian President Ms Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga.

The Embassy has renovated the house and retained many historic features that evoke Alice Barney and her special epoch. The house and select interiors are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains an important part of the history of Washington, D.C.